I wrote recently about how renting cars is the one aspect of the travel experience that I find most frustrating, and where I’ve more or less taken a defeatist attitude. Fortunately OMAAT readers provided some great tips about how to make the car rental experience better. That leads me to a different car rental topic I’m curious to get some opinions on.
Renting cars is really complicated right now
There has been widespread coverage of how challenging renting cars is nowadays — not only are rental cars ridiculously expensive right now, but there’s also a massive shortage:
- During the pandemic, a lot of car rental companies decided to sell their cars to raise money, especially since used cars have been selling for pretty high prices
- Now there’s a ton of demand for rental cars, as people are starting to travel, largely by road given travel restrictions
- The rental car industry has virtually no standards or accountability, and is happy to overbook to no end
As a result, we’re seeing a couple of trends:
- Rental car prices are through the roof, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before
- People with rental car reservations are showing up at counters only to find that no cars are available (which I can’t mention without posting the below Seinfeld clip)
Should I be worried about my car rental reservation?
Soon my fully vaccinated family will be going to Hawaii, which we’re really excited about (my mom hasn’t been to Hawaii in many decades, and her partner has never been). While I usually do what I can to avoid renting cars, it goes without saying that on most Hawaiian islands renting a car is important, and not having access to a rental car could hugely change your experience.
I have a rental car reserved — it’s a refundable booking with Sixt. I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to avoid any surprises. That’s especially true when I see stories of people in Hawaii renting U-Hauls to get around due to lack of rental car inventory.
I notice that the rental car company is now selling the same type of car rental for more than twice as much, which is a trend we’ve seen across the industry.
I know there’s always a risk that my rental car reservation won’t be honored, at least for the specific type of car we reserved. Heck, that has happened to me more times in the past year than I can count.
But is there anything I can do to prevent this?
- Have rental car companies at all been contacting people in advance if they won’t honor reservations, or do you just show up and find out they have no car for you?
- Is there anything that can be done to make sure they actually “hold” your car for you, like offering to pre-pay, or something? For future reference, do car rental companies actually consistently honor pre-paid reservations, and if so, is that the way to go in the future?
- Do rental car companies offer cars on a first come, first served basis, or do they save the cars for people who ended up booking higher rates because they waited longer?
If anyone has any experience or tips, short of just having car rental status and not showing up late at night (I have status, and our flight doesn’t arrive too late), I’d love to hear them!
Car rentals have quickly become one of the costliest and most complicated parts of travel. The car rental industry has always been terrible at managing expectations, overbooking endlessly and with no shame. But that issue has only been exacerbated with car rental companies reducing the inventory of cars while dealing with unprecedented demand.
If anyone has any experience and/or tips, I’d love to hear them (and I’m sure I’m not alone)!